With a lap time of 29.406 seconds, the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke the track qualifying record at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta on Friday and claimed the pole starting spot for Saturday's Quaker State 400 at the track. It was Earnhardt's 12th-career pole, but first of the season. In all, nine drivers were faster than the previous track record.
"We like the bumps, at least in the corners anyway," Earnhardt said in his positive critique of the track. "Good lap."
Carl Edwards qualified second with a lap time of 29.459 seconds in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Jimmie Johnson was third in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and he'll share the second row with fourth-place qualifier, the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch.
Both Earnhardt and Johnson went out early in the qualifying session, under ideal cloudy track conditions. Johnson went out and bettered the track record he previously held to claim the provisional pole early. Earnhardt was the 15th driver out and knocked his teammate from the provisional pole spot.
"I felt like we had a shot to put a good lap down, but I didn't know we had a chance to Jimmie," Earnhardt said. "We got a good cloud cover."
Later during the session, some clouds returned for a partially cloud-covered track. Under those conditions, the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin turned in a lap to claim the provisional third spot, the best non-Hendrick showing, at the time. He was later replaced in that position by Busch. The JGR teammates were knocked down another notch, to fourth and fifth, when Edwards broke up the Hendrick teammates up front with his second-fastest lap.
"I didn't get a chance to look at the 88's lap that close, but he ran a near perfect lap," Edwards said. "It's frustrating to know if I went out again, I may have gotten the pole."